LEESVILLE, La. (BP)–When Ruth Ann Westmoreland recently saw an announcement about a children’s Bible drill class in her church newsletter, it brought back poignant memories.
The memories date back many years. Westmoreland and her husband, Bob, had built their home near Leesville, La. Actually, the home was located 15 miles from town — and five miles down a dirt road.
The couple were members at East Leesville Baptist Church but were not committed members, Westmoreland says. “As a young couple with two small daughters, we thought we were committed in just making it to church on Sunday mornings,” she recounts. “But as our children grew, we began to realize the importance of Sunday school, church training and nurturing our girls in the Word of the Lord.”
Church became more than just a Sunday morning commitment at that point. “Eventually, we were in church every time the doors were open,” Westmoreland says.
The family’s older daughter, Jana, was in sixth grade when children Bible drills began to be offered at the church. Classes were scheduled an hour before church training sessions, which meant the Westmorelands had to have their daughter back at church by 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoons.
“Given the distance and the conditions of our road, we had only two hours at home on Sunday afternoons, and we usually did not return home from church on Sunday evenings until 8 or later,” Westmoreland says. “We felt we could not afford to take two vehicles in to church, so Jana’s commitment became our commitment, and we all drove in together.”
The Bible drill class was a demanding one — and few children stayed with the effort. Jana Westmoreland was one of those.
Her mother recalls her own wonder at her daughter’s progress. “As the weeks went by, I was amazed at the skills Jana attained while working with memorizing passages of Scriptures and the books of the Bible,” she says. “Not only did she learn the plan of salvation and the supporting Scriptures, she also learned where the books of the Bible were located and how to find them in a minute’s time.
“She became confident in her knowledge of the Bible verses and her skills in being able to find them.”
That May, Jana Westmoreland proved her skills, gaining recognition as a state Bible drill winner. “Forgotten were the memories of the difficulties of our Sunday schedule over the past year,” Westmoreland recalls. “With Jana standing there, smiling and holding her trophy, we knew that in our sacrifice God had been glorified and that our little girl had gained an invaluable knowledge of God’s Word.
“We had no regrets.”
The next year, younger daughter Katie entered the world of Bible drills as well. For three more years, the Westmoreland family endured a hectic Sunday schedule.
But each year, they watched their younger daughter excel at state competition — and knew the effort was worth it, Westmoreland says. Each year, they reached the same conclusion — “no regrets.”
Time passed. The Westmoreland girls grew, experienced the struggles of adolescence. “There were times of rejection and rebellion,” Westmoreland notes. “There were times of grief and despair.
“But in it all and through it all, we knew the girls had received God’s Word in Bible drills — and we felt that they knew that God was there for them, and he would see them through. During those times, we were so thankful they had had the opportunity to learn God’s Word and that they had been able to participate in children’s Bible drills.”
Years came and went — and Jana Westmoreland went off to college in Ruston, La. Then, the unthinkable happened.
In 1994, Jana and Katie Westmoreland were involved in an automobile accident, struck head-on by a drunk driver.
Both girls were seriously injured, but Jana was the most serious. For almost three months, she lay in a coma due to severe head trauma, first in an Alexandria, La., hospital and then in a Texas facility.
“The difficulties of our Sunday schedule were nothing compared to the rigorous routine we had after the girls’ wreck,” Westmoreland says. “We spent 10 to 12 hours a day working with Jana and praying that she would come back to us.”
She did, emerging from her 79-day coma the week of her 20th birthday. The family moved their older daughter to a rehabilitation hospital in Ruston, La., where friends and other family were located.
Then they began another demanding schedule. By this time, Katie Westmoreland was a senior in high school and needed the normalcy of a home life, her mother says. Still, the family would visit Ruston twice a week — on Wednesdays and on weekends.
Meanwhile, Jana Westmoreland faced her own difficulties. Her left side was paralyzed. Her tongue was partially paralyzed, making it hard for her to eat and talk. She lingered in a post-traumatic state in which she was unable to process new information.
“She asked the same questions repeatedly and she could not remember who had visited her or even if she had eaten,” Westmoreland recalls. “All of these things made it difficult for her friends to visit with her and for us to leave her on Sunday afternoons for our trip home.”
One Sunday evening, as the family visited with their daughter, a patient named Lori wheeled into the room. Lori had been in an automobile accident a couple of years earlier and was a paraplegic. The Westmorelands had noticed Lori with her husband and two young children. “We were impressed with her demeanor and smile,” Westmoreland says. “It was obvious she was a Christian and loved the Lord.”
Lori asked if it would be all right for her to visit with Jana and read the Bible and pray with her. The Westmorelands immediately agreed.
One Sunday, Lori came by to tell the family about an earlier visit with their daughter. Lori said she had asked if Jana had a favorite Bible verse — and the girl had answered yes, identifying it as John 3:16. Lori said she had not asked the girl to quote the verse in fear the effort would be too frustrating.
At that moment, however, Katie Westmoreland turned to her sister. “Jana, is John 3:16 your favorite Bible verse?”
Her sister nodded her head.
“Do you know what John 3:16 says?” Katie asked.
Her sister nodded — and in a slow, garbled voice, she quoted the verse.
“We were so shocked that we just stood there, frozen, tears of joy streaming from our eyes,” Westmoreland recalls.
Katie continued to quiz her sister on Bible verses the two had learned in drill classes years earlier. Jana remembered every verse — and slowly recited them.
“It was at that moment that I realized God had been preparing us for this, the most difficult time in our lives,” Westmoreland says. “He had imprinted his words on the hearts of our children — and those words had blessed us beyond measure.”
Yes, the commitment had been difficult. Yes, the schedule had been discouraging. Yes, the family had had to make hard choices about time priorities.
But standing in that hospital room, listening to her daughter quote Scripture, Westmoreland says she knew one thing about those earlier years once again.
“We had no regrets,” she says.
NOTE: Jana Westmoreland continues to make progress, dividing her time between home and a Texas rehabilitation hospital. Meanwhile, people seeking information about children’s Bible drill programs may contact their state Baptist convention offices.